Ahead of her gig tonight at the White Horse in Ballincollig, Mike McGrath-Bryan speaks with singer Pauline Scanlon about music, TV, and her new record.
“It was all around me from when I was a kid. We were pretty much like any family in Ireland at that time, pre-TG4, so there wasn’t a whole pile of Irish pop-culture on the TV or the radio when I was growing up, though we had Irish culture, language and music around us all the time. I grew up in the countryside in Burnham, just outside Dingle, surrounded by farms and generations of my family. It was gorgeous, a rural childhood in a beautiful place.” The story of singer Pauline Scanlon starts in the Corca Dhuibne Gaeltacht, and ahead of her gig tonight at the White, the conversation begins with the Irish language before progressing to her debut solo record. Released over a decade ago, the question emerges of artistic changes in the intervening years. “I’ve just developed my craft I guess, I feel a lot more at ease in studios these days since I’ve done so much recording over the last 10 years on various recordings. Artistically, I don’t know that I’ve changed that much, I have always just wanted to sing what I feel, and that’s pretty much what I do. I guess I have developed my singing and improved it over the years, but in general, I follow my heart and create what feels right.”
Scanlon has worked in session with an astounding variety of talents, including as a featured vocalist for Sharon Shannon and band. How does sessioning differ to her from her own endeavours? And how much free rein have you over your end of things as a session musician? “It really depends on the session, when I was in Sharon’s band, I was a guest singer, so we’d pick songs together and I’d sing them with free rein. If I’m recording backing vocals for somebody else’s music I try to accommodate their tastes, and mould myself to their singing as much as possible, since I become part of their expression rather than my own. I absolutely love harmony singing, harmonies are my favourite part of music, I’m lucky that some my closest friends are also singers so I get to do a lot of it. In general though, free rein is something that I pretty much always have in a sense, I’d very rarely being doing something so specific that I’d have very strict guidelines.”
As one half of vocal group Lumiere, her work has taken her around the world, while signed to Sony for the project’s first album cycle. Scanlon illustrates the differences between more independent artistic endeavour, and the rigours of major-label entertainment. “We released our first album on Sony, and our second on indie label IRL. I’ve had so many different experiences with major and indie labels that it’s hard to draw a straight comparison. When we worked with Sony in Ireland they had an amazing team of really passionate music-lovers working with us and we had a great time with them. They bent over backwards for us and really helped us launch the band. We went with a smaller label the second time round as they were tied in with our management and had much the same experience, Lumiere has been very lucky with the people around us from the very start.”
Scanlon has ventured into TV work in recent years off the back of her musical exploits, both as presenter and subject. How does the process and work of preparing and presenting television differ from music and the stage? “It is completely different. Music for me is a soulful and emotional thing, it’s about how I feel about the most important parts of life in general and sometimes more specifically my own own life. It runs deep. TV presenting is the exact opposite! For me, it’s nothing like performing onstage or anywhere else. It’s a job with long hours and a very specific Job description, which I enjoy but don’t ever really compare to my singing. I really prefer the documentary end of things telly-wise, its a different world, with different people and personalities and it’s nice to dip the toe in every now and again, but music is really what I’m about.”
New solo album Gossamer was just released in May. Give us some insight to its writing, arrangement, and recording process. “I had been collecting songs for a couple of years, ideas on where I wanted to go with them, and producer John Reynolds and I had discussed the overall feel we wanted for the album. We worked with the band in the room and developed the sound for a week before we recorded.”
Pauline Scanlon plays the White Horse in Ballincollig tonight, with guest Anna Mitchell. Kickoff is at 8.30, tickets €15.